Dogs get pulled into the medical marijuana debate

After his 11-year-old dog Reef jumped over a fence and injured his shoulder, David Bourgouin had two choices for relieving his pet's pain: a $6,000 surgery or cannabidiol (CBD), a hemp-based suite of nutritional supplements being marketed by a California company. It's essentially medical marijuana for pets, and some veterinarians say it can relieve everything from pain to nausea to separation anxiety.

Bourgouin chose CBD, and he told NBC news in San Diego that Reef is playing like a puppy again, despite the lemon-sized cyst on his front leg.

CBD is an oil-based product that's derived from industrial hemp and is devoid of any of the psychoactive effects of marijuana. Nevertheless, the product has been pulled into a debate about whether marijuana products are really safe and effective in veterinary medicine.

Veterinary anesthesiologist Amber Hopkins told the news program that there's plenty of anecdotal evidence that cannabinoids are promising but that "there's very little scientific evidence that supports efficacy, safety studies, dose regimes that have been well defined in animals."

The products aren't cheap, either. Hemp Health, the company that provided Reef's supplements, sells CBD capsules for $89 to $169 per bottle, and a vanilla-flavored oral spray for $35 to $149. The company makes no efficacy claims--it can't, because the FDA hasn't approved the products to be used as medicine.

Despite ongoing debates over safety and efficacy, medical marijuana has been approved for human use in 23 states and the District of Columbia. As the approvals were piling up in 2013, the American Veterinary Medical Association urged veterinarians to weigh in on the debate with a story in its journal laying out the pros and cons of medical marijuana. One big negative is that in every state--even the ones that have legalized marijuana for human patients--it is illegal for veterinarians to prescribe or recommend marijuana-based products, according to the journal.

Nevertheless, startups are detecting a growing market for hemp-based pet meds. Last year, Cannabis Therapy and Canna-Pet teamed up to develop a chewable hemp-based drug to treat diabetes, arthritis, and other disorders.

- here's the NBC San Diego story
- access the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association's story here